Ordinance for Virginia, 1621



An ordinance and Constitution of the Treasurer, Council, and Company in England, for a Council of State and General Assembly. Dated July 24, 1621.


To all People…The Treasurer, Council, and Company of Adventurers and Planters for the first colony of Virginia, send greeting. Know that we, the said Treasurer, Council,and Company, taking into our careful consideration the present State of the said colony of Virginia, and intending, by the Divine Assistance, to settle such a form of government there as may be to the greatest benefit and comfort of the people, and whereby all injustice, grievances, and oppression may be prevented and kept off as much as possible from the said colony, have thought fit [to order and establish] such supreme councils as may not only be assisting to the Governor for the time being in the administration of justice, and the executing of other duties for this office belonging, but also, by their vigilant care and prudence may provide as well for a remedy of all inconveniences, . . . as also for advancing of increase, strength, stability, and prosperity of the said colony:


II. We therefore, the said Treasurer, Council and Company, by Authority directed to us from his Majesty…, upon mature deliberation, do hereby order and declare that from now on there shall be two supreme councils in Virginia, for the better government of the colony.


III. The one of which councils to be called the Council of the State (and whose office shall chiefly be assisting, with their care, advice, and circumspection, the Governor) shall be chosen, nominated, placed and displaced, from time to time, by us, the Treasurer, Council, and Company, and our successors. This Council shall consist, for the present, by the following people: [list of names] Which said counselors and council we earnestly pray and desire, and in his majesty’s name strictly charge and command, that, all factions, partialities, and sinister respect laid aside, they bend their care and endeavors to assist the said governor; first and principally in the advancing of the honor and service of God, and the enlargement of his kingdom among the heathen people; and next, in erecting of the said colony in due obedience to his majesty and all lawful authority from his majesty’s directions; and lastly, in maintaining the said people in justice and Christian conversation amongst themselves, and in strength and ability to withstand their enemies. And this council, to be always or for the most part residing about or near our governor.


IV. The other council, more generally, to be called by the Governor, once yearly, and no oftener, but for very extraordinary and important occasions, shall consist, for the present, of the said council of state, and of two burgesses out of every town, hundred, or other particular plantation, to be respectively chosen by the inhabitants. This council shall be called the General Assembly, wherein … all matter shall be decided, determined, and ordered by the greater part of the voices then present, reserving to the Governor always a negative vote. And this General Assembly shall have free power to treat, consult, and conclude, as well of all emergent occasions concerning the public weal of the said colony and every part thereof, as also to make, ordain, and enact such general laws and orders on behalf of the colony and the good government thereof, as shall, for time to time, appear necessary or requisite.


V. Whereas in all other things, we require the General Assembly, and also the Council of State, to imitate and follow the policy of the form of government—laws, customs, and manner of trial and other administration of justice, used in the realm of England, as near as may be, as his majesty’s letters patent require.


VI. Provided that no law or ordinance made in the General Assembly shall be or continue in force or validity unless the same shall be solemnly ratified and confirmed in a General Quarter Court of the said company here in England and so ratified, returned to them under our seal. It bein out intent to afford the like measure also to the said colony, that after the government of the said colony shall once have been well framed, and settled accordingly, which is to be done by us, as by authority derived from his Majesty, and the same shall have been so by us declared, no orders of the [General Quarterly Court] afterwards shall bind the colony unless they are ratified by the General Assemblies.


In witness whereof we have here unto set our common seal, the 24th day of July 1621.




Excerpts from F.N. Thorpe, editor, Federal and State Constitutions, vol. VII: 3810


Note that the language in this version has been modernized in places for clarity.